One rainy evening as I was traveling with friends, I was suddenly introduced to a man who was a total debonair. He was charming, well traveled and cultured, successful and sophisticated yet remained solid in his values. He was down-to-earth, very approachable and family-oriented. He was a true gentleman. And I absolutely had an undeniable special connection with him.
For some reason the connection lasted only for a moment. Four hours to be exact. And I’m not sure if I would ever see him again…
This sounds so unfortunate, right? I’m not sure if I’d be happy about this or not but this is not entirely accurate as this all happened not with a man but with a restaurant. Yes, you heard it right! Whew! This restaurant has the exact description that I wrote about that man… We had a special connection and “he” was perfect.
And now, he’s gone…
I have a friend who exactly knows what I like about food and places, and she was the one who invited me to “meet” La Cocina de Tita Moning. The other major bonus was besides from being with my friend Len, we were also with the best person to take us around the 15-year old restaurant.
This person is Anson Yu. He’s a businessman, writer, photographer and an expert tour guide in Manila. And he lead us to having one of the best experiences meeting this restaurant-debonair while bidding him farewell at the same time. This feeling about a restaurant was unique. It was bittersweet and I never felt that way with any restaurants to date.
GETTING TO KNOW
Our experience at La Cocina de Tita Moning started with a tour with Anson. He first learned about this ancestral home-resto in 2001. And after a few years, that’s when he started bringing people to try it out. He brought more guests when he started working for Old Manila Walks having assigned the Malacañang Palace Tour to him. It was at La Cocina where he ended his tours with a Merienda Menu (Sotanghon, Chicken Relleno and Ginataan) for his famished guests.
JM: Can you share a brief history about La Cocina? How it started? About the family and the meals that they cooked?
Anson: The house belonged to the Legarda Family. It was built in 1937 and was one of the earliest houses in Manila to be built in Art Deco Style. It came to the ownership of Doctor Alejandro Legarda after his mother passed away. He then moved in with his second wife, Ramona a.k.a. Tita Moning. When they got married they traveled extensively for their honeymoon. Since Tita Moning wanted to be accepted by her new in-laws, she tried to learn as much as she could about cooking during her travels.
After the couple moved into their new home, Tita Moning developed a reputation as one of Manila’s best hostess because of her cooking. But for Tita Moning her food was an expression of her love. So she started a tradition in her family that all the members should be present at the house for Sunday lunch. It did not matter if her grandchildren were out partying all night long, but Sunday noon they had to be at the house.
Among those that grew up eating Tita Moning’s cooking is her grand daughter Suzette. By the time her grand parents passed away, she had this idea to serve Tita Moning’s recipe to the public. Being a graduate of Swiss hospitality school, Le Roche, she asked her relative if it was possible for her to use the ancestral home as a venue for her restaurant. She got their nod of approval and the rest you can say was history.
That’s a great story about the place, Anson. Now I feel more nostalgic about it.
THE LAST SUPPER
Having our moment of “fine dining in an ancestral home” (the famous line about this restaurant) reminded me about The Last Supper. Everybody’s enjoying it, the food, the company but at the same time it’s saddening to know that it’s going to be our last meal at this beautiful ancestral home. So what did we enjoy for our Last Supper?
SOUP OR SALAD?
(You can choose from their A la Carte Menu)
(Len and I shared her choice of soup which was the Cream of Pumpkin Soup and my choice of salad below, so we can try both.)
(Anson’s choice of salad was so fresh and refreshing! We all loved it!)
(They also served us with sautéed spinach instead of the sautéed fresh ubod. We enjoyed it! It was cooked fresh from their garden.)
THE FAMOUS DESSERT PUDDING
COFFEE, NATIVE CHOCOLATE, HERB TEA OR ME?
FAVORITES AND CONVERSATIONS
JM: Anson, thanks for touring us around. But what’s your favorite room and memory at La Cocina?
Anson: My favorite room has to be the den mainly because of the books, the furniture and the cool dim lighting. Another corner I like is on the second floor. It used to be an open balcony, until it was enclosed. With the blinds, desk, antique fan and puffy chair, it looks like a scene from an exotic safari.
Favorite memories…. the conversations I had with guests about Filipino culture and history, as well as learning about their history and culture. Another would be their bread and butter pudding. Every bite is memorable.
The bread and butter pudding… Delicious indeed (and every course was memorable too)! I’m glad I was able to try it for the first and last time. Haha.
JM: What about your fondest meal at the house?
Anson: Maybe my first meal? Back then they had bells on the table to get the staff’s attention and you can have your second or third servings.
JM: Anson, by the looks of it, it seems like you have one of the best jobs in the world! Maybe you can describe more about what you do and what you like most about your work…
Anson: My work schedule sometimes feels like I am walking a tight rope. I try to balance between doing my duties in the family business, conducting a walking tour and working on an article or editing a photo. Why I do this is guess for the rewards not necessarily monetary rewards, but knowing that my time and effort was not a waste. This could be in the form of a praise or an encouragement. It could also be knowing that what I did actually benefited someone.
JM: I agree with you. It’s the fulfillment that makes our work more rewarding. With that, do you have any advice to give to those who are still struggling in searching for a work that will make them happy?
Anson: If you are still working your way up in the world one piece of advice I can give is that be willing to learn from your mistakes… Don’t dismiss any criticisms regarding your work or how you do things, but be willing to learn and improve yourself. Not taking yourself too seriously is also a good thing to learn.
I think that entails humility, to embrace corrections, to learn and improve! It’s also good to have fun in between some serious work. Good words to take in, Anson.
JM: Well, we’re already nearing the end of our last course… While we’re enjoying this hot chocolate, if you have the opportunity to wish or choose on what could be next for La Cocina de Tita Moning, what are they and why?
Anson: I like for them to keep the patio at the back opened to the public. I like the fact they are serving simple but delicious food that is affordable. I particularly like the baked huevos, which is eggs baked in oven over tomato sauce and spinach.
Maybe in its next incarnation La Cocina could survive as a take away operation. This way we can still try out specialties such as the saba with vermouth and the bread and butter pudding with pili nuts.
Awww… Anson and Len, what a bittersweet way to end our evening at La Cocina, right? The bread and butter pudding and the hot chocolate… the conversations…
Saying hello and goodbye to this 19th Century old ancestral home-resto was a unique experience for me. I can only imagine how hard it was for those who had been working at this restaurant for years and its patrons as well. Kudos to their passion in bringing good food and memories for 15 years in Manila!
Thank you Len and Anson for introducing me to La Cocina de Tita Moning. It’s been months since they closed their restaurant but I’m still dreaming about the meals that we had that evening. From start to finish… It was a nice end to discover a hidden treasure that will always be remembered in Manila.
Do we still have other ancestral home-restos here in Manila that’s worth the visit? I want to visit other places that has both historic and gastronomic value. Do you have your own personal memories at La Cocina de Tita Moning? Tell me about it.